In response to health concerns from the European Union (EU), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will soon crack down on livestock sent to slaughter with illegal drug residues.

Livestock are seldom found to contain levels of antibiotic residues in violation of standards set by the Food and Drug Administration.

In 1997, the last year for which data was available, 0.02% of cattle and a half percent of hogs slaughtered were detected in violation.

The EU has threatened to stop importing U.S. meat unless tougher steps are taken to ensure it is chemical-free.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing that packers be liable for controlling chemical hazards in livestock as part of their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans. In so doing, packing plants could put steps in place to reduce future hazards, including rejection of animals with a high level of risk history, according to FSIS.

Under current USDA policy, only parts of the animal where residues tend to concentrate, such as the liver or kidneys, are condemned. USDA may require carcass destruction under the proposed plan.

Al Tank, chief executive officer, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), says current industry and government programs are identifying pork producers who send animals with residues to plants for slaughter.

Janet Riley, a spokesperson for the American Meat Institute (AMI), which represents packers, says the problem does not lie with packing plants and efforts to ensure animals don't have violative residues must be aimed at producers.